Animation maker

Netflix’s ‘Entergalactic’ is a technical triumph of animation

If you’re going to release a new album paired with a Netflix movie, you’d want it to sound like entergalactic.

The visual side of Scott “Kid Cudi” Mescudi’s latest album of the same name, entergalactic isn’t just an extension of the disc’s themes, scenes, and inspirations, it’s one of Netflix’s most impressive animated films this year. Mescudi worked with director Fletcher Moules, executive producer Kenya Barris and writers Maurice Williams and Ian Edelman to bring his concept album to life as an understated yet heartfelt romantic comedy set in New York City.

In several chapters, entergalactic follows artist Jabari (voiced by Mescudi), who hangs out with his friends Jimmy and Ky (Timothée Chalamet and Tyrone Griffin Jr.) while trying to make a name for himself. Then, he meets his neighbor, photographer Meadow (Jessica Williams), through a party that’s too loud and cute. When she’s not beset by the advice of her own best friend Karina (Vanessa Hudgens), she’s also trying to establish herself in the high-flying New York art world. And yes, a sweet, modern love story ensues.

With decorator Robh Ruppel at the helm and thanks to the talents of DNEG visual effects and animation studioanimation in entergalactic probably unlike anything you’ve seen before. The closest you could get would be Spiderman: Enter the Spiderverse Where Esoteric. It is a technical triumph. Each image is a masterpiece of hypercolors, contrasting textures and vignettes of city life – watching Jabari roam the streets of Manhattan eating sloppy noodles at sunset is simply stunning to watch. This immaculate animation also thrives on moments of surrealism: Instagram profile pictures come to life, Jabari’s street art character Mr. Rager (Keith David) tries to give him advice, and weed powers the characters. through breathtaking, dreamlike and dreamlike sequences.

Meadow seen in a dreamlike sequence.
Credit: Netflix

Cudi and Molds even worked on the design of the costumes with the late artistic director of Louis Vuitton, Virgil Ablohwho died aged 41 at the end of 2021 cancer. According to Netflix, Abloh based the outfits on his own runway designs and wardrobe favorites, and the production team incorporated them into the animation.

SEE ALSO:

You don’t need to play ‘League of Legends’ to experience the masterful animation of Netflix’s ‘Arcane’

Mashable spoke to director Moules about how animation in entergalactic came together.

Mashable: animation in entergalactic looks like nothing I’ve seen on screen. For someone unfamiliar with the technical terms of this style of animation, why is the film unlike anything we’ve seen before, both seemingly hand-painted and computer-animated?

Fletcher Mussels: Although we used common 3D animation tools (Photoshop, Maya, Nuke), my main goal was to hide the role of the computer as much as possible. entergalactic had to look like a painting in motion. Writers Ian Edelman and Maurice Williams called the series an “analog love story”. So for me, it was imperative that the film look and feel handmade. entergalactic is about two artists after all. When a musician releases an album, he puts himself forward, creating an emotional reaction; love it or hate it like any other piece of art. I felt like the visual component had to be the same.

An animated image of a smiling man.

Jabari, voiced by Kid Cudi himself.
Credit: Netflix

Technically to achieve this, we painted everything by hand. All character textures and color maps are painted individually in Photoshop. Production designer Robh Ruppel was instrumental in providing direction throughout production. An example is that the highlights on their skin are brushstrokes. Normally the computer gives you a layer which is a soft highlight. Together with DNEG’s VFX team, we’ve written bespoke tools that put a brushstroke in place. This reflection continued throughout the show.

The second element here is movement. entergalactic is a love story between two humans – nothing is more relatable than that. Our main characters therefore had to believable. Following the same handmade mantra, each pose had to be positioned by hand by each animator, like in stop motion, not allowing the computer to fill the frames. No motion capture either. It was a risk, especially with our super-fast schedule. The animation may be choppier than people are used to, but what’s most important to me is that the human hand was literally guiding every movement, every expression. The DNEG animation team really killed it here!

A lively couple takes a selfie in front of a sculpture outdoors.

Awwwwww.
Credit: Netflix

How did you work with Kid Cudi to ensure the story of entergalactic could fend for itself outside of the album tracks?

To be honest, without these songs, it wouldn’t be the same story! Cudi had the songs first, which is quite different for any feature film project. He also had the concept of a love story set in Manhattan. The songs set the tone when writers Ian and Maurice started. They were able to take the tracks and build the main beats and emotional arcs around them, but only in a few cases was it the other way around. The songs were immediately so captivating, and for me, evoked a world I just wanted to swim in.

How did your team produce such an authentic and accurate view of New York City in the film, can you speak to the sense of place the film conveys?

The writers Ian and Maurice are both New Yorkers so they kept us honest! The three of us did a reconnaissance trip at the end of 2019, which was really more of a liaison trip, ha! We scoured all the places we thought the show would take place as I took thousands of reference photos. Little did we know COVID was just around the corner and this trip would be so crucial to the show!

An animation shows three men lifting cans of beer with the New York skyline behind them.

Cheers!
Credit: Netflix

It was imperative for Cudi from the start that we do a show that was truly authentic to New York, and a love letter to the city. Narratively, we start with Jabari who has just moved to Manhattan. He just got his dream job and apartment, so culturally, socially, emotionally, we wanted to convey his new lifestyle on screen.

Geographically, I love it when a New York movie chooses a building to center around, it’s a fun visual builder throughout the story. I love the Jenga building (56 Leonard St) and it’s right in the pocket where the writing team wanted Jabari to live. So we used it as a landmark that you constantly see everywhere.

An animated New York cityscape.

The streets of New York are the perfect setting for a romance.
Credit: Netflix

Surrealism and psychedelic sequences make up several scenes in the film, can you tell me how your team came up with the concepts here?

We started painting graphic space scenes as a reaction to listening to the music and really just to visualize the title of the show, but then it grew into something much bigger. Pretty quickly, we realized we needed a visual device to convey Jabari’s emotional point of view. For me, that’s the joy of animation. You can bend reality, totally change it, and it doesn’t confuse the viewer because they’re already in a made-up place, no matter how grounded the story may be. Each of the series’ different visual styles are designed to convey a different point of view, or to give the audience a much clearer look at how a character feels.

An animated man on a bicycle leans away from an explosion in the street.

An epic sequence.
Credit: Netflix

It’s never easy to animate physical intimacy with believability and on-screen beauty, how did you navigate these sequences?

Ha! Well, I hope we did well! First, they are not meant to make the viewer feel uncomfortable, but rather to advance the realistic/relatable story we are telling. We approached them starting with a single painting with reflected lighting, and dropped those stills into the timeline to see if it would work.

A shirtless man leans in the doorway of an apartment and talks to a woman who smiles at him.

These two.
Credit: Netflix

Once we felt they would, we carefully moved into the animation…ensuring that all movement was minimal, suggestive, and never overdone! Hats off to the great DNEG animators who executed these plans!

entergalactic is now streaming on Netflix.(opens in a new tab)